8 Days to GO!

What a roller coaster ride the past three months have been. Just look back for a bit - three months ago we were still struggling with the SADC process, hopeful that Mbeki and the SADC leadership would force Mugabe to play ball and allow a free and fair vote. Then came the blunt refusal by Mugabe to go along with the reforms negotiated over 9 months between Zanu PF and the MDC.

Then the desperate attempts to get the opposition to unite - fresh negotiations, a deal is struck and then rejected by the political structures (not the top leadership) of the MDC and we were faced with an election in six weeks, no money, a divided opposition and widespread disbelief in the electoral process - why vote, was the most frequently asked question. Then came the Makoni bombshell. I was about to go onto a radio talk show in South Africa when friends called me to say Makoni was holding a press conference in Harare and was coming in as a new Presidential candidate. I knew that was a most significant development and I broke the news on SA radio and said that in my view this event would shake up the whole establishment here and might change the outlook for the elections.

It did both; it was the first senior defection from Zanu PF in recent years. The Makoni decision was followed by a number of others as rumors of his support base in Zanu PF spread. But you can never predict what will happen in a situation like this because the law of unintended consequences always follows through. What we did not expect to happen was the impact it made on the outlook of the general population towards the election. Skeptism was immediately transformed into expectation.

People began to register to vote again, interest in the political process stepped up and the national debate grew to a crescendo. Whatever the truth, people thought that with Zanu PF divided and the armed forces clearly in two minds, that Mugabe would not be able to rig this election the way he had in 2002 and 2005. Money began to flow into the political process; people got off the shelf and threw themselves into the fray. MDC was able to field nearly 2000 candidates and demonstrated a degree of preparedness that took all by surprise.

A short campaign has ensued. MDC rallies and meeting across the whole country have attracted large audiences - record attendance in many cases when compared to the past 8 years of almost continuous political activity. But more than that - people suddenly gained the confidence to flaunt their party regalia and demonstrate their support.

For Makoni et al the situation peaked about two weeks ago and their support as reflected in the polls being conducted among the voting populations shows that their support is now waning - at the last count Makoni had 8 per cent of the national vote with 27 per cent saying that would not disclose who they would vote for and 17 per cent saying they would not vote. Morgan Tsvangirai is now well in the lead in the polls with Makoni still trailing Mugabe. How anyone who is not nuts can still support Mugabe is a mystery to me!

So here we are - 8 days to go and what can we expect? Pretty much everything and everybody is behaving according to our expectations. The SADC observer mission is here led by Angola where democratic elections are still a distant dream. They have already stated that the conditions are free and fair! What a hoot! I am looking forward to all the other 'democratic' States arriving - China, Libya among them. Morgan said that the observer missions were a waste of time and money; Zimbabweans are on their own.

Still no international press here, still no programming on State controlled media, still full-page ads from Zanu PF in every daily newspaper. But Zanu PF has not held one meeting in Bulawayo and the Presidential rally has been cancelled. Just to show them what might happen if they did come to Bulawayo, a local Party hack sponsored a football match with a substantial prize plus free beer and was rewarded by the crowd roaring their approval when a MDC T shirt walked into the Stadium and sat near the dignitaries. Then at the end of the match the crowd sang rude songs about Zanu PF and the actual sponsors of the event. Great to see people not afraid any more.

I sense a real shift in the Police - perhaps its because I have had more to do with them this time - normally the closest I get to a Policeman is a confrontation at a rally or march. This past week we had the CIO arrest three volunteers putting up posters - they took them into custody, cuffed them around and forced them to eat a poster. The Police officer to whom we complained phoned the CIO and said that if the MDC people were nor released immediately he would charge them with assault - he then instructed the victims to go to a doctor and get a medical report and lay charges against the CIO. That has not happened before - I do not know who was more shocked, the CIO operatives or us!

I am exhausted and wonder how Morgan is coping - he is in the rural areas most days, speaking and traveling continuously. The pressure is enormous. Sunday he speaks at a Star rally in the Zimbabwe grounds where Simba launched his campaign three weeks ago before a small (3000) crowd. I am going up for that and expect to see a massive crowd if the recent weeks have been anything to go by.

We should all now prepare for the election itself. We intend to declare the result from our own field reports and I am sure we will be the first to say what has happened - so watch your news on Sunday morning. We have had threats from the military and a clear statement from South Africa that they would not tolerate any military intervention, but anything is possible. Lets just pray for a landslide that no one can argue with. Then comes the hard part - coping with the complete mess Zanu PF leaves as its legacy of 28 years of failed and corrupt government.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 21st March 2008